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ARC funds new projects to investigate 'environmental cleansers'


Brigid Veale
2 November 2015

Two Southern Cross University projects which are investigating how seagrasses and mangroves act as ‘environmental cleansers’ have received funding in the latest Australian Research Council (ARC) funding grants.

Professor Bradley Eyre, director of the University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research, has received $305,000 for a three-year study investigating the rates of denitrification in seagrasses and how effectively they work as ‘cleansers’ of nitrogen. The project is being undertaken jointly with Professor Ronnie Guld, from the University of Southern Denmark.

The Discovery Project is titled ‘Resolving the amount of nitrogen lost from seagrass communities via denitrification: importance for global nitrogen budgets’.

“We will be looking at seagrasses in estuaries on the east coast of Australia and in parts of Denmark. Seagrasses are an important part of the benthic habitat in these systems and our preliminary work has shown high rates of nitrogen removal via denitrification in the seagrass, which converts fixed nitrogen into a gas which is lost from the system,” Professor Eyre said.

“It’s essentially a cleansing process, taking nitrogen out of the water. It’s a really important process to understand. If it turns out that the high rates we have measured to-date are found in all seagrasses, they may play an important role in the global nitrogen budget.”

Dr Christian Sanders, who is based at the University’s National Marine Science Centre at Coffs Harbour, received a Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA), worth $393,434, for his project ‘Mangroves as nutrient filters: Resolving the balance between groundwater exports versus soil burial’.

Dr Sanders said mangrove wetlands naturally filter and bury large quantities of carbon and nutrients through soil accretion. This process of sequestering carbon in marine ecosystems is also referred to as ‘blue carbon’.

“This project will determine site specific mangrove carbon and nutrient sequestration along the Australian coast, permitting these wetlands to be included in national policy frameworks, including the CO2 emissions reduction schemes,” Dr Sanders said.

“Such information will allow adaptation strategies to use coastal wetland habitats that sequester greenhouse gases, providing strong support for mangrove forest protection and restoration.”

Professor Geraldine Mackenzie, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), welcomed the ARC announcement.

“This is a good result for Southern Cross University, and especially welcome as we start our inaugural Research Week today (November 2),” Professor Mackenzie said.

“This again demonstrates the significant contribution our researchers are making in areas critical for our environment and ongoing sustainability. Funding from the ARC is incredibly competitive and these results highlight the unique expertise of our researchers.”

Professor Graham King, director of Southern Cross Plant Science, is also an investigator on a successful ARC Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grant led by the University of Sydney, coordinated by Intersect for the NSW university research community, for a project to establish a new supercomputing facility.

Photo: Dr Christian Sanders taking a sediment core sample from the Coffs Creek mangroves.